What, you think I own Rurouni Kenshin? You've got to be kidding me. Nope, sorry; other folks own it. I'm just borrowing the characters for a bit. I promise to return them when I'm done playing.
By the way, suing me will get you nowhere. The government already takes most of my money in taxes, and I need the rest to pay for my education, gas money, and manga. So no, you can't have any! (But can I have some of yours? Pretty please? *grin* Just kidding, people, just kidding.)
-----------A Good Man
It was the rain, and not his nightmares, that woke him that night.
He lay there for a few moments, listening to the constant, soft pattering.
"So quiet," he thought.
His mind, which he purposely kept busy during the day with chores, to-do lists and the other day-to-day necessities of life, seemed to explode into action as the sun set. It was always the worst when he was alone. And he was alone with his thoughts each and every night.
As he lay on his futon each night, memories would rise like ghosts from graves, following him even into his dreams. Shishio… Jineh… Tomoe… Okubo… His parents… The women who'd taken care of the boy, Shinta, who would one day, become Hitokiri Battousai… And Shinta…the child he'd been, before…
Kenshin shivered. Each night, they rose to taunt him, to accuse him. Murderer. Monster. Bastard. Fiend. Demon.
Hitokiri Battousai. Name after name, they called him, and he could only bow his head in shame and accept their censure. It was all true, and he knew it.
After so many years, he had finally stopped begging them for forgiveness. How can one apologize to the dead? Only the living can offer forgiveness, Kenshin thought. Ghosts have no future, have no hope; because of this, they have nothing left except their anger and hatred.
A ghost cannot move beyond its own pain, and so, they remained behind, tormenting Kenshin in his dreams, never allowing him to feel joy without forcing him to recall the pain that had come before. Pain that he'd forced upon others.
And for what? He sometimes wondered why he'd done the things he'd done. Sometimes, when the pain in his chest grew to be too much, he could not remember why he'd chosen to walk down the path of the manslayer. It was only in the daylight, only when surrounded by the ringing tones of his surrogate family that he could recall his reasoning.
For them. For the people he hadn't even met when he was Battousai. For the people he still hadn't met. For the people he would never meet. For them. For the future.
But ideals are cold comfort for a person who must live with the memories of what those ideals drove him to do.
As he lay on his futon and listened to the rain, Kenshin struggled with his thoughts. He was not a hero. He was not a role model. He was not brave, or chivalrous, or selfless.
He was not a good man.
But he'd wanted to be.
And that, he thought, was the saddest, most pathetic thing of all.
He'd wanted to be.
And in wanting to become those things, he had, instead, become the very antithesis of what he'd sought.
Hitokiri Battousai. Manslayer. Monster.
Oh, yes, he was all of those things.
On nights like this, when the dojo was far too still, when Kenshin could only lay alone in the dark and listen helplessly to his accusers, when he could only berate himself for his own failings as a man, these were the worst nights.
A strange, yet hauntingly familiar pain in built in his chest in the vicinity of where his heart would be – if, as the ghosts would taunt him, he actually still had a heart.
The pain rose and swelled within his ribs. His throat tightened. The walls of his room drew down, tight on him, encasing him in a prison that was real only within his own mind.
A scream built in his throat.
"Too much too much too much too much," the thought chanted over and over in his head. "No more! Please, Kami, please…I cannot bear this…Please…Oh, Kami…"
The scream kept rising until it lodged in the back of his mouth. He could taste the bitter tang of the cry on his tongue. It took all his will to remain silent. He feared that if he released it, if he allowed himself to scream, then he would never be able to stop.
"I must bear this. I must…must…must…"
He gritted his teeth.
"Breathe," he thought. "Just keep breathing. Listen to the rain. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe, Himura, breathe, damn it!"
His fists clenched and he twisted on the futon.
He was losing the fight.
He slipped off the futon onto the wooden planks of the floor. He lay there, writhing on his back, struggling to contain his pain, his sorrow, his regret. He rolled to his knees and pressed his fists to his chest, bowing his head to the floor as he struggled to breathe. The rain continued overhead, unabated.
"Let it pass. Just let it pass," he thought, desperately. "It will pass. It must pass."
Suddenly, he went still.
Someone was outside. He automatically reached for his sakabatou, which was never far from his side.
"Who — " the word had barely formed in his mind when he realized who the nearly silent figure padding down the hall was.
Kaoru. He reveled in her familiar presence. It was Kaoru.
The thought of her calmed him. Immediately, the shadows of his room receded, the pain in his chest eased. The hard knot of the scream in the back of his mouth loosened, and his entire body relaxed.
And then worry set in.
Had she heard him? Had he made a sound? He didn't want her to know. He didn't want her to see what a monster he was. He wanted to stay within the dream that was his life at the dojo.
He never wanted her to know the kind of monster she allowed to stay so near her. He never wanted to look into her eyes and see the fear he inspired in his enemies, the hatred he produced in his victims.
He wanted to look into her eyes and not see a devil reflected back at him. In her eyes, he was not a murdering, blood-lusting savage. In her eyes, he was not Battousai.
In her eyes, he was Himura Kenshin. In her eyes, he was still a good man.
But why would she be awake at this late hour? And why would she be outside in the rain?
Controlling his emotions and schooling his face to a more neutral expression, he rose and padded silently to the shoji door. Slowly sliding the panel open, he peered into the hallway, ever vigilant for any threats to the people he considered to be his family. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, Kenshin slipped down the hall.
The door to the outside was slightly ajar.
"An invitation?" he wondered absently, his ears still ringing from the taunts of his memories.
He did not see her at first, as he stepped outside onto the porch. For a split second, terror gripped him; where was she?
And then, he stopped thinking altogether.
Kaoru stood silently in the middle of the dojo yard. Her hands lay still at her sides, her face turned up slightly to the mostly clouded sky. Her eyes were closed, her lips slightly parted, as though tasting the warm liquid.
The rain slipped gently down her face like a hundred tears. Her hair, unbound and untamed, lay in long wet waves down her back and shoulders. A single curl plastered itself to her cheek. Her face was so calm, so still; so peaceful and relaxed. Her nightclothes, dripping with water, conformed to every curve, every line of her form. Her entire body glistened under the extraordinary combination of rain and starlight.
She was exquisite.
Kenshin couldn't move. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. Even the ever-present memories stilled, silenced in the presence of the woman before him.
He had never seen anything like this. Not in his entire life. Kaoru was always beautiful; that wasn't the issue. But this…this…
This was freedom. This was joy. This was peace. This was…this was…
He had no words for it. He doubted that there had ever been a word for it.
Some things, the very best things, are unable to be described by such petty things as mere words. Some things, he thought, must simply be, and until a person experienced these things for themselves, they would never understand.
Words would never be enough to describe something so incredible, so intense, as this.
And then, slowly, she lowered her face and looked over her shoulder at him.
Kenshin's heart stopped.
For a moment, just a moment, her eyes held him, all of him. The good and the bad. The dark and the light. The monster and the man.
She saw him. She saw him.
He had no time for terror. He had no time to fear; not her rejection, her hatred, nor her own fear of him.
In the split second when he realized that she knew, truly knew, about his past and understood who he truly was, the corners of her mouth lifted, ever so slightly. Her eyes softened.
Even halfway across the yard, he could read her eyes. In her eyes, he could see everything so clearly.
Slowly, she lifted her hand. Water pooled in her palm and dripped from her fingers.
"Come to me," she seemed to say, although no words passed her lips. "I've been waiting."
He found himself down the porch and halfway to her before he was even aware of having decided to move.
She remained still as a statue, her hand extended, her eyes, gentle and warm and full of…
Could it be…?
He couldn't think. Didn't want to think. Didn't need to think. Because suddenly, his hand was in hers, and nothing else mattered.
The way she was looking at him made him feel things he had no right to feel. He didn't deserve this, not any of this.
He tried to turn away, to pull his hand from hers. He opened his mouth to speak; anything to break the spell she'd somehow cast on him.
She moved suddenly, covering his mouth with the fingers of her free hand. Her eyes laughed sadly at him. He could not get away so easily. She would not let him run away from her. Not like this. Not ever.
She took their joined hands and lifted them to her chest. She placed his palm gently over her heart and held it there. Her other hand slipped from his mouth to caress his cheek. Slowly, she slid it over his face and around to his nape. Her fingers gently massaged the base of his scalp as she drew him closer to her.
She touched her forehead to his, her eyes never looking away, never hesitating.
Then, gently, gently, she pulled him down lower, lifting her own chin just a bit, and exhaling softly, pressed her lips to his forehead.
Something inside him broke.
He did not remember moving, but suddenly, his arms were around her, crushing her to him as he buried his face in her chest. His body trembled. He didn't know if he was crying or not, but it didn't matter. None of it mattered. Not in that moment. Not to her. Never to her.
His knees buckled and carried them both to the ground. His arms clenched around her waist as though she were his only lifeline, his last chance for salvation.
She held him to her breast, caressing his back and neck and face. She did not speak, only held him close, rocking back and forth slowly, as though soothing an injured child.
He was no child, but he was still in pain.
He did not know if it was the rain that made his eyes blur, but he tasted salt, and only then did he realize that he'd been weeping. Silently, yes, but weeping still.
He cried for them all.
For Tomoe and Enishi.
For Shishio and all who'd followed him in pursuit of foolish dreams of conquest and rule.
For Jineh who would always be trapped in the bloody past and had never wanted anything more than that.
For Okubo who had tried so very hard to build a better world.
For his own lost family and those women who'd protected him while with the slavers, so long gone now that they were only shadows of a memory.
And for himself. For Shinta, for the child he could have been and the man he might have become, but who had died so that Himura Kenshin could be born.
He wept for the way things could have been, for the happiness he might have had, for the hope he had given away, and for his own peace, which he had traded away so that others could live in better times.
For the first time in so many long and horrific years, Kenshin mourned.
Through his silent tears, Kaoru held him as the warm rain soaked them both. She made no statements, passed no judgments. Nor did she lie to him and tell him that everything would be all right. She simply held him, and allowed him to let go of the tight control he always kept his suffering under.
It was she who was strong for him, she who protected him, even from himself. This was Kaoru's greatest secret – her strength. It came not from combat or brutality or training, but simply from her heart. She was strong enough to hold him, and care for him still, even when he was at his weakest. It was a strength she gave freely, without even realizing her courage in offering it. And that, too, was a part of her power.
It was Kaoru who was truly strong, with a strength that would never fade or wane with the passage of time. Kaoru was, and always would be, stronger than he ever had been.
Eventually, when he could weep no more, he lifted his face to look at her. Kaoru's hands gently framed his face.
He stared at her. Her eyes – oh, her eyes…
She'd been crying, too. For him.
Slowly, he lifted his hand. Hesitating only for a second, he seemed to ask her permission, then he once again placed his hand on her chest above her heart. She nodded. Tears spilled unheeded over her sooty lashes as she watched him.
His other hand came up to cup her face, his thumb gently brushing away salty dampness. She turned her face into his hand, and gently kissed his palm. He shivered and closed his eyes.
They sat like that for long moments, him absorbing the steady thrumming of her heart, she reveling in the warmth of his hands.
Finally, she shifted. Rising slowly, she allowed his hands to slide down her body until they rested on her hips. Still kneeling, he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close to him and pressed his face into her stomach. His hands caressed her back and came to clench the fabric of her clothing as she slid her own fingers gently through his hair. He breathed in her scent, that slightly spicy, warm odor that mixed with the rain to create an entirely new and exotic smell. He filled his lungs with the scent of her. He crushed her to him, startled by the sudden irrational fear that if he let her go, even for an instant, she'd vanish, or melt away into the rain.
He lifted his face to her, his eyes shadowed, the pain still raw and oozing in their depths. She lifted a hand, her fingers lightly tracing the contours of his cheek and jaw. His eyes slid shut as he reveled in her touch. Her thumb slid over his lips. His eyes snapped open and he stared at the soaking woman before him. His tongue flicked out involuntarily to taste the flesh her fingers had so recently touched. He tasted the rain and knew that if he kissed her at that moment as he was longing to, that she would taste of the rain, as well. She would taste like the rain and so much more…
Then she took his hands and gently guided him to his feet. Their eyes met, and although time did not stop, it seemed, just for a moment, as though the world around them sighed in contentment. His fingers twined with hers as she gently tugged his hand and led him back toward the dojo.
She did not release him until they reached the porch. He sat down with his back to the wall of the dojo, then gently brought her down to his lap, his legs framing hers, her back resting against his chest.
His hands wrapped around her, one enveloping her waist, the other resting above her heart. Her hands rose to cover his, and she leaned her head back against his shoulder. They nestled together under the overhang of the dojo's roof and looked out into the warm summer rain.
"What makes a good man?" Kenshin thought as he tightened his hold on the incredible, precious, and amazingly wise creature cradled in his embrace. Her heart continued its steady cadence under his palms.
"Is a good man one who saves a nation? Is he someone who makes peace? Is he someone who fights evil?
"I am not a good man. I have done so many terrible things. I have killed. I have caused others great pain.
"But I have also suffered. I, too, have lost things and people who were precious to me. And I have mourned.
"I make no claims at being good. I cannot undo the past.
"And for the first time, I don't want to. My past has led me here. And this is a place I truly want to be."
He glanced down at the woman in his arms.
"No, I have not been a good man. But I'd like to try to be one."
Eventually, the rain passed, as it is wont to do. The stars gleamed gently overhead, keeping a silent watch on the world below, but if they had any opinion on the events of that night, they kept their own council. The sun rose and the stars faded, taking their secrets with them.
But the two figures on the porch did not stir. They remained motionless, locked in their embrace.
And that was how the others found them the next morning. Even in sleep, they smiled as they kept each other safe.
Kenshin still had nightmares.
There is no magic cure that can make the pain of a guilty past fade away into oblivion. Years of regret and sorrow cannot be miraculously erased in a single night, or even in many such nights. Such pain must be accepted, understood, endured before it can ever be released.
But when he would wake in the night, sweating and trembling and remembering; when the ghosts of his memories rose to taunt him, Kenshin would turn to Kaoru, and she would hold him, and ease his burden. He would lay with his ear to her breast, listening to the steady tattoo of her heart, beating out the rhythm that would soothe and comfort him for all the rest of his days.
Even when they were apart, she held him.
For the rest of their lives, they would remember.
Kaoru never forgot the feel of his face, soaked in rain and tears. She would remember how the pain had built in his eyes, how his face had seemed to beg her, not to forgive him, for it was not her place to forgive, but asked her simply not to hate him. She would remember the love she'd felt in his hands as they'd cradled her to him, how he'd trusted her enough to show her his own suffering and allowed her to take a small piece of his burden from his weary heart.
And Kenshin…Kenshin would always remember the feel of her heart beating beneath his hands, pulsing, reminding him of the night in the rain, of the peace she'd reminded him of, and of the love which she would always give him, without a second thought or reservation. He would remember how willingly she'd shared her strength with him, shoring him up against the storm of his suffering, offering him a safe haven.
And he would spend the rest of his days, trying to be a good man.